Does this sound familiar? You spend the week whizzing around your agency, spinning plates in sales, delivery, finance or HR — but then when you finally get some quality time to do forward-facing work as the Owner/CEO it's hard to slow down and focus productively.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed, and not know where to start on your long wishlist of big-picture things to do. The danger then is you work on low-value stuff like admin because you can see how to get stuck into it more easily.

That's one of the common themes I hear in conversation with founders, including on last week's Office Hours call for Convivio members.

So here are some practical tips to make your leadership time more productive:

  • If you're feeling overwhelmed or unfocused, it's counter-intuitive, but the best thing to do is stop. Otherwise you end up in a crazy haze of busy days without feeling you got much important stuff done. So stop. Disconnect yourself from the world for a bit and take a day to get a handle on everything.
  • Write down everything in your head. Make notes about stuff that sits on various task lists or project apps. Gather all this in one place so you make a master queue of what you want to do and what you need to do.
  • Stack rank your queue, so the thing at the top is more important than the next thing down, and so on. Then you can just come to this list and take the top thing.
  • For the top ten things in the queue, write down exactly what the next action is for that item. For example, if you wanted to introduce one-to-ones with your team, your next action might be 'Ask other agency owners how they do one-to-ones' or 'Read Convivio's Agency Playbook page for how to do one-to-ones'.
  • Each time you have a leadership day, scan the queue and see if you want to bump anything up or down the queue based on new information, and if anything else needs adding to the queue. Make sure the top ten things in the queue all have valid next actions written down.
  • If it's hard to know what to bubble to the top of the list, think of things from different angles — How much value would it add to your agency? What would the consequences be of not doing it? How much does it align with your purpose and strategy?
  • Reduce context-switching by carving out bigger chunks of leadership time on a regular basis. One solid day a week is a great start. Book it in your schedule and make it a regular day so everyone knows when you're not available for plate-spinning.
  • Try working in a different location for these leadership days, with the kind of environment where you can get into deep focus.
  • Keep admin away from your leadership days. This is time for big thinking and big steps forward, not month end or invoicing. You have four days a week to do everything else. This is your one protected day.
  • Each time you get a leadership day, do a closedown routine at the end. Make notes about what you did, where your thinking is at, and what the key three things are you want to do next time. Then put a link to those notes in the calendar entry for your next leadership day — and begin that by reviewing them.
  • Put a note on your computer, or by your desk that says something like "Spinning? Steve says stop, go for a walk." It's too hard when your mind is racing to tell yourself to stop and come back to it later, but we respond better to someone else giving us that nudge. I promise, you'll get way more done in an afternoon if you take an hour to walk and then do three hours focused work, than if you spend four hours at a desk trying to force yourself to focus.

These are all simple things, but hard to make yourself do when you feel so busy. So stop, take a moment to read and consider them, and use them in your work this week.

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